Civilisation and development are not licenses for environmental degradation, Captain (Rtd.) Nkrabea Effah-Dartey, Deputy Minister for the Interior on said Monday. He said in Africa: "We are using the civilization and development agenda at our disposal as a recipe for disaster by turning most of the rivers, streams and other water bodies that flows through the towns and cities into receptacles for garbage."
"If we continue at this pace, we are heading for a catastrophe, but we need to act fast to halt this looming catastrophe," he said. Capt Effah-Dartey was addressing about 60 delegates from 16 countries in West and Central Africa, comprising leading environmental journalists and lawyers in Accra for a regional capacity building workshop.
The three-day regional workshop organized by the Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem (GCLME) Project is also aimed at helping the lawyers and journalists to acquaint themselves with the legal and institutional framework in place to manage priority environmental issues.
Capt Effah-Dartey said in the past when there were no engineers, architects or surveyors to design and plan settlements, there was so much order in the mode of construction and designs, with sanitation and conservation methods put in place for the benefit of the people. "Yet in recent times when knowledge acquisition is rather on the increase, the environment is being degraded with such speed and impunity that one wonders if there are law and regulations governing the attitude of the citizens of most of the African countries."
Capt Effah-Dartey said in the environmental conscious countries such as Australia, even trees in one's backyard could not be cut without the requisite permit from the city authorities, as culprits face the full rigors of the law.
He said it appeared that the average African believed that he or she had a lot of natural resources at his disposal that they often cared less about the consequences of their acts and omissions concerning the environment.
"We need to preserve our environment as a legacy for our children, so we need to follow laid down rules and regulations pertaining to the conservation of the environment, and stop putting up buildings in a haphazard manner," he said.
Capt Effah-Dartey charged journalists and lawyers to use the advocacy tools at their disposal to help bring about change in the attitude of the people of their respective countries so that the environment would be sustained for the future generation. He said: "When we travel abroad, we see how river bodies that flow through towns and cities are maintained and used as tourist attractions that generate incomes to the economy of those countries and we wonder why the same cannot be done in our countries," he said. He was optimistic that if lawyers were able to apply the laws to address the problems and journalists played their roles effectively, there could be changes in the attitude of the citizens to the environment.
Professor Chidi Ibe, Regional Director, GCLME, said the forum would facilitate experiences and information sharing among participants as well as establish a platform for mutual collaboration and follow-up, especially under the GCLME project. "The role of environmental lawyers in facilitating good environmental governance for sustainable development, as well as ensuring enforcement and compliance of environmental regulations, is key to maintaining environmental integrity," Prof. Ibe said.